Illustrations by Lila Volkas

Last summer, as my daughter Lila unpacked on her return from another year of college in Canada and a stint WWOOFING on an organic farm, she plucked from her backpack a large Ziplock bag encasing a strange, slimy, dripping pancake and held it up to my face, declaring proudly, “Look at my baby!”

I admit I recoiled with a gasp, as I managed, “What is that thing?”

“Oh, Mom, “ sighed Lila, like it was so obvious, “That’s my Kombucha SCOBY!”

Kombucha Bottles. Illustration by Lila Volkas

Since I was uninitiated to the delights of the fermented, fizzy drink with a long history and the recent surge in popularity, Lila was eager to share her discovery from the organic farm of how easy (and cheap) it is to make your own kombucha with only water, tea and sugar. As we searched our shelves for a suitable jar and a cotton cloth, she raved about the health benefits (still in dispute) and how drinking some kombucha every day made her feel so good.

After brewing a gallon of tea, adding a cup of sugar and letting it cool completely, I watched Lila pour the sweetened tea into our largest mason jar and gently place the slippery SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) to float on top of the liquid. She covered the mouth of the jar with a cotton dishcloth and secured with a rubber band. “Now we just have to wait for seven days.” Decanting the bubbling golden brew a week later, I sipped the earthy tang of a zingy, apple cider. Maybe I’m suggestible, but after a small glass, I felt re-energized.

A few weeks later, as Lila was packing for her job as an art instructor at a summer camp in Yosemite, she broke the news, “You’re going to have to take care of my SCOBYs while I’m gone for two months and whatever you do, don’t let them die!” As I surveyed the brood of SCOBYs (which, like rabbits, had multiplied and now occupied all of our glass pitchers) I was suddenly flooded with memories of the traumatic summer when I was nine and volunteered to feed my neighbor’s fish, while they were on vacation. One morning, to my horror, I discovered dead fishies floating atop a tank of black water. I don’t think my neighbors spoke to me again.

Kombucha instructions. Illustration by Lila Volkas

Luckily, Lila left me with detailed drawings and instructions and all went well during her absence. Seems my maternal instincts are still intact.

Don't Be Fooled - Healthy vs Sick Kombucha. Illustration by Lila Volkas

When she returned home, however, I pointed out a few worrisome threads hanging off the bottom of a SCOBY, but Lila reassured me they were a normal part of the yeast and not mold.

Last September, as Lila packed to go back to school, she offered me my own SCOBY, but I declined, because of impending trips away from home. (I know now could have set up a SCOBY hotel)

Kombucha Killers. Illustration by Lila Volkas

Meanwhile back at UBC in Vancouver, Lila became active in Sprouts, their volunteer-run, organic café and gave kombucha making workshops to curious Canadians, including lists of do’s and don’ts (e.g., only clean your bottles with hot water, never use soap). She had intentionally expanded her SCOBY family in the intervening months so she could give each of the 30 attendees their own baby SCOBY to take home.

While she was away at school, I missed the bubbly, revitalizing beverage and tried store-bought kombucha but nothing hit the spot like Lila’s brew.

Friends of Kombucha. Illustration by Lila Volkas

Lila is back for the summer now and our fridge is once more full of her concoctions, this time, flavored with ginger and lemon or blueberries and chia seeds. Soon she’ll be leaving for her summer camp job and I’ll be in charge of the little rascals again. This time, I’m ready. Instead of regarding the jellyfish-like blobs with distaste, I now welcome them as a part of the family who inhabits half our pantry. And I thank my daughter for her willingness to let me mother her “kids.”

How to Make Kombucha: An Illustrated Mother/Daughter Tale 6 January,2016Anna Mindess

  • holly cow! this kombucha post is incredible! really cool illustrations too! Please tell Lila she rocks!!!

  • amindess

    Thanks, Dave. I will!

    • would love to ship you guys some goodies to try (and perhaps draw as well!). kombucha extracts and some kombucha boosters!

  • Scarlet T

    Helo, super nice illustrations which makes it clear for me what to do now, just got 4 scobys from a friend.

    Some questions
    1. Is it ok that they stand for two days in their 4 week old tea (or should i give them fresh tonight) covered with paper and rubber band (until i get the equipment)

    2. I found some disturbing articles on the net about it, for example on wikipedia. Do you know about this and have any comments to this information (relevant or not?)

    Thank you 🙂


Anna Mindess

My passion is exploring the connection between food and culture. I write regularly for Oakland and Alameda Magazines and Berkeleyside’s NOSH. My blog, East Bay Ethnic Eats, gives me an excuse to track down the only Bay Area baker making fresh filo dough or learn to stuff a dried eggplant with help from a Turkish immigrant. Culture is the thread that ties together my several careers. As a sign language interpreter, educator and author, my study of Deaf culture has taken me around the world, where I fell madly in love with seed-strewn Danish bread, attacked platters of French shellfish with a small arsenal of tools and sampled a Japanese breakfast so fresh it wiggled. I’m also an epicurean concierge for Edible Excursions Japan town tours (that I lead in either English or ASL). And when I conduct in-depth cultural trainings for foreign workers being transferred to the Bay Area, I am sure to discuss the delights of doggie bags and the mystery of American restaurants serving ice water in the dead of winter. I can be found tweeting @EBEthniceats


Lila Volkas

Lila Volkas is a Berkeley based Holistic Nutritionist, food writer and illustrator. She received her Nutritional Consulting Certification from Bauman College and offers clients individualized nutritional support. As an illustrator she creates hand drawn and digitally colored illustrations that whimsically capture the essence of her subjects and are easily digested by readers. Much of her inspiration comes from her undeniable love for vegetables, as well her knack for anthropomorphizing what’s on her plate. Lila has had several pieces published in KQED’s Bay Area Bites as well as in Edible East Bay Magazine. For more of a taste of Lila’s offering, check out her website

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